I finally got around to reading Lullabies for Little Criminals, which has been recommended to me by all kinds of people, including one of my students who seemed quite immune to the charms of most of the novels I was teaching in English class but who was completely captivated by this book.
I can see why, actually, because Baby, the narrator and main character of Lullabies, reminds me a lot of some of my students — or of them as they might have been at twelve or thirteen. Baby is the child of a twenty-seven-year-old drug addict dad who loves her dearly but has no idea how to care for her. Baby’s life is a chaotic journey through the streets of inner-city Montreal, from dingy boarding hotels to foster homes to a juvenile detention centre and eventually, inevitably, to dangerous shelter under the wing of a neighbourhood pimp.
Yet throughout the insanity of her life Baby remains a bright, perceptive, and somehow innocent girl, seeing her tawdry world through fresh eyes. O’Neill’s use of language here, the voice she gives Baby, is lyrical and poetic without straining credibility and without ever detracting from the story.
The first part of the novel moved slowly, I thought — it was rambling and episodic and I wondered if things were ever going to start happening. Then they do start happening and the story moves toward its conclusion, leaving the reader unsure what kind of outcome to hope for. I found the ending not quite satisfying — but it could have been much worse. The book is engaging and enjoyable, a quirky portrayal of beauty found in unexpected places.